February 21, 2024

Driven mad by eugenics: a true crime drama from Spain

Eugenics with assisted reproduction technology is not new. Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin, devised schemes for making higher and lower humans without the assistance of DNA or Petri dishes. Eugenics was an important theme in early 20th century social science.

One of the most extraordinary stories about the heyday of eugenics comes from, surprisingly, 1930s Spain, where a woman was driven mad by her passion for perfecting the human race. She created the perfect offspring – and then murdered her. The drama is being brought to life through a Spanish affiliate of Amazon Prime.

The story of Aurora Rodriguez and her daughter Hildegart is well known in Spain, but not in the English-speaking world. Aurora was born in 1879, the daughter of a prominent liberal politician and Freemason in Madrid. A feminist and socialist, she became obsessed with creating a perfect child. As a mere “physiological collaborator” she chose a brainy man who could never claim her child – a military priest (who turned out to be a child abuser). She planned to create “the most perfect woman who, as a human statue, was the canon, the measure of humanity and the final redeemer”.

Her daughter, Hildegart Leocadia Georgina Hermenegilda María del Pilar Rodríguez Carballeira, was born in 1914. (Hildegart, Aurora believed, meant garden of wisdom.) By the time Hildegart was two, she was reading, at three she could hold a pen and write a letter, and at four she could type and play the piano.

By the time she was ten, she spoke German, French, English, Italian, Portuguese and Latin as well as Spanish. She started her university studies at 13. Her mother tutored her in feminism and Hildegart wrote scores of articles and essays about sexual and social reform. The media called the 18-year-old La virgen roja, the Red virgin. She was befriended by some of the most prominent sexologists of the age, including Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld. H.G. Wells invited her to work with him in London – which displeased Aurora, who was aware of his reputation as a shameless sexual predator.

However, Hildegart gradually became estranged from her mother. She had become romantically involved with a young socialist and was disenchanted with Marxism. Aurora complained that she had brought her daughter into the world to better the condition of women, not of society.

The climax of the family conflict came on June 9, 1933. Aurora took a revolver and shot her daughter three times in the head and once in the heart. She then gave herself up to the police. “’The sculptor, after discovering the most minimal imperfection in his work, destroys it,” she explained at her trial. She died behind bars, spending most of her time in a psychiatric hospital.

Najwa Nimri, left, and Alba Planas play Aurora and Hildegart in a Spanish film produced by Amazon

A Spanish movie, “Hildegart”, directed by Paula Ortiz, is scheduled to be released next year. It stars Najwa Nimri and Alba Planas as Aurora and Hildegart. It is being promoted as a blend of “historical drama, romance, thriller and a touch of true crime”.

What is the moral of this story of a real-life Spanish Frankenstein destroying her beloved creation? Perhaps it is that, unlike the Creator of the Bible, human creators are unlikely to accept the freedom of their creations.